With views to die for, Paul Suart is reminded to keep safety in mind when snowboarding.
Snow capped mountains stretched out across the vast horizon below me from the upper reaches of Austria’s SkiWelt resort.
It was a breathtaking view most skiers and snowboarders would die for.
Yet, adopting the most severe of worst case scenarios, it was a dramatic vista I could have died for.
For this intrepid, and rather foolish boarder, suddenly found himself alone and, by complete accident, on a black run – the hardest grade of slope in terms of difficulty to descend.
Having negotiated part of the advanced route, I reached a point, seemingly ‘off piste’ in a valley between slopes, where I was no longer comfortable with the unforgiving and rather steep terrain.
Unclipping my board to walk across to the slope 100 yards to the left, I began to slide uncontrollably down towards a sheer drop – unsure if there was a barrier to break my fall.
After sliding for what must only have been a few seconds, but felt like an eternity, I managed to dig in and grind to a halt some 50 yards above the drop.
Lying on my back, with the uneasy reality I was so high up mountain peaks were below me, I did what all skier or snowboarder is secretly ashamed of doing. I called out for help!
Too scared to do any more than lift my head from the snow, in case I began to slide again, I chose to cry out when skiers sporadically passed on the slope about 200 yards to my right.
Thankfully it was only about 30 minutes, though it seemed like days, before three German skiers came to my aid.
The altruistic trio stayed by my side until a search and rescue team escorted me, unhurt but somewhat embarrassed, from the slope in an industrial-sized snow plough.
That the plough is called out twice a day on average, according to its two operatives, did rather alleviate some of my abashment and guilt.
This had been a hair-raising experience I had brought upon myself – with no blame apportioned to the organisers – having become separated from the rest of my group and the instructors.
The moral of the story then, as a relative novice boarder; try not to tackle slopes on your own and only take on runs you are comfortable with else take a ski lift or cable car down.
Needless to say the whole ordeal, as fraught as it was, did and never will deter me from boarding again. And rightly so.
In fact, the best cure for my newfound jitters was to immediately return to the slopes of SkiWelt - which with 279km of runs is Austria’s largest interconnected ski area, 80km north east of Innsbruck in the federal state of Tirol.
Later that evening, after my ski group had reunited and regaled our stories of the day over après-ski in a bar by the Sport Erdinger hire centre in Söll, I was back on the piste.
This time, however, I was pulling a toboggan down a gently inclined floodlit track winding 2.5km through the valley of Söll.
Not only was it reassuring to be back on the mountain, if not as far up it, but tobogganing proved an unexpected highlight of the trip not just for me but also my travelling companions.
The drama I had encountered almost mirrored, in a quite different way, that of the enchanting descent into Innsbruck Airport days earlier.
A sea of mist hovered below as we flew through a valley between snow capped mountains.
As our plane pierced the mist, a series of scenic, dusty white miniature villages, reminiscent of a snow globe scene, were gloriously revealed beneath us.
Innsbruck city centre, just a short drive from the airport, was our first port of call – in particular its four very different Christmas markets.
What became instantly apparent, as we walked along Innsbruck’s glamorous, litter-free streets, each one glistening with sparkling Christmas decorations, was the feeling of affluence and indulgence that immerses Tirol’s capital city.
That Innnsbruck is home to one of the world’s largest Swarovski shops and a museum dedicated to the history of the highly sought-after range of crystals, appeared to justify such an observation.
We strolled in the bitter evening cold hardened by a wind chill that made the temperature feel much cooler than -10°C to Marktplatz, the city’s main plaza, which was almost entirely covered by quaint Christmas market stalls.
A much needed mug of hot Gluhwein (mulled wine), served in the shadow of a giant Christmas tree in the Aldstadt (old town), helped to warm the cockles before we dined at nearby Weisses Rossl Hotel.
Traditional Austrian cuisine came highly recommended and did not disappoint, most notably the delightful Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) that brought the meal to an exquisite conclusion.
An hour-long transfer later and we had arrived to our base for the next three nights, the four star Hotel Alpenpanorama in Söll, one of seven ski holiday villages surrounding SkiWelt.
A good night’s sleep, followed by a somewhat limited continental breakfast at the hotel, set us up for a day on the slopes of SkiWelt.
Getting kitted out with our ski and snowboard equipment at Erdinger was a painless process for us in mid December, at the start of the winter ski season, though it’s likely to be a fair amount busier in February.
Ski and boot hire costs from €23 per day or from €89 for 6 days and helmet rental is €2 per day.
Five-day lift passes are €156 for adults in off-peak season and €183.50 in peak season, while prices for children are €78 and €92 respectively.
Add in the reasonable rates at SkiWelt’s ski school and its 95 lodges, bars and restaurants, and the resort can rightfully boast that it’s one of the more affordable in Europe.
A cable car lifted us up into the mountains where, after a brief recap from SkiWelt’s extremely helpful and improbably patient ski instructors, we tackled one of the many easy runs of which there are 124km.
Given almost half of SkiWelt’s runs are blue (‘easy’) shows how the attraction is geared to beginners as much as it is for more experienced Alpine visitors.
Another fancy feature of the SkiWelt is a graphic chart which illustrates how many kilometres each person has completed, certain points reached and the height of the runs.
But there’s much more to SkiWelt than just skiing, boarding and tobogganing.
The ski area also offers fun parks, hiking trails, race tracks and, arguably the jewel in its icy crown, an Igloo Village where tourists can dine and reside in luxurious, heated igloos.
I forgot just how physically taxing snowboarding can be so lunch, consisting of sumptuous currywurst – German pork sausage fried and seasoned with a curry ketchup – and a large bottle of dark beer, was just the ticket.
By the end of day one, the novices in the group had regained their confidence while the more advanced skiers were ready to explore more of the expansive SkiWelt.
A satisfactory meal at the hotel prepared us for a night on the tiles in Söll.
The town hosts a thriving après-ski and nightlife scene complemented by Whiskymühle, a bright maze of a bar segued by staircases and mini-dancefloors.
For reasons already explained, my second and final day on the slopes was eventful if not exactly encouraging in terms of progress made on the board.
Our evening venture onto the toboggan came after what had been my favourite meal of the trip at the Alpengasthof Hochsöll on the Söll side of SkiWelt.
A lavish banquet of hot and cold meats, served with horseradish and other traditional Austrian accompaniments, were laid out before an equally formidable array of deserts, including Apfelstrudel.
Sunday morning arrived and we were flying back home after a brief but action-packed three days in Austria.
It might seem a long way to go for such a short stay but plenty can be achieved in that time and you can leave, as I did, feeling like you’ve been away for ages and on an adventure of a lifetime.
Paul Suart flew with Monarch (monarch.co.uk) from Manchester Airport to Innsbruck Airport. His trip was courtesy of SkiWelt (skiwelt.at) and Monarch. Manchester Airport is easily accessible from Birmingham with Cross Country Trains running a direct, 90-minute service from New Street to Manchester Picadilly leaving a 20-minute train to the airport. Monarch operate flights from Birmingham Airport to Munich, about a one-hour drive from SkiWelt, four times a week from £35 one-way. Prices at the Hotel Alpenpanorama in Söll start from €69 per person per night on half board. To book, call 0043 5333 5309 or visit www.hotelalpenpanorama.com